Gators Relying on Freshman Class

Without the freshmen class, the Gators might have been one-and-done in Atlanta over the weekend. The group of newcomers has gotten better throughout the season, but their improvement has happened so rapidly that it's not rare to see at least three of them on the floor together.

Their role is no longer to keep the team close with the starters get rest. Instead, the freshmen have fueled some comebacks this season. They are now a capable scoring unit on their own.

On Saturday against Vanderbilt, Patric Young came off the bench almost one minute into the game to guard Commodores center Festus Ezeli. His physical presence in the post is something the roster doesn't have without him.

"We just need his energy," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "That's what we need. We need his presence out there. When he's playing hard with a high energy level, there is no question it impacts our team. It takes pressure off Vernon and Alex a little bit when he can come in there because he can affect the game without scoring."

Freshman Scottie Wilbekin is now becoming a player that Donovan will leave on the floor for longer than just a few minutes. He graduated from high school after his junior year to play for the Gators and was expected to give Erving Walker a few minutes of rest whenever needed.

Wilbekin has instead turned into a capable offensive force.

The point guard went on an 8-0 run by himself on Sunday in the SEC Championship Game against Kentucky to bring the Gators back in striking distance in the first half.

"He has two things as a young kid that I didn't know if he would have," Donovan said. "He has great feet. He can really move and defend and keep people in front. And we've put him on some pretty good offensive players in this league. The other thing, too, he's got a very strong body for a guy that young. He's also not afraid to put his body in there and make physical plays, loose balls, long rebounds; he can get in there.

"I don't think Scottie's coming in there thinking I'm going to be a scorer. But he knows athletically and physically he can go out there and compete. He also can impact the game with his defense, and making an open jump shot, and doing some of the things he's done."

MACKLIN STRUGGLES: Vernon Macklin had only seven points and two rebounds against a Kentucky frontcourt that hasn't played well on defense. The Gators needed to dominate in the post, and it didn't happen. Donovan was frustrated with his senior, but not because of his lack of points. It came after Macklin fumbled the ball around and turned it over five times.

"It was him catching the ball, and as he started to go make his move, him putting it on the ground," Donovan said. "He was way, way too soft and loose with the ball when he put it on the floor. When he catches it, he looks. Now you put the ball on the floor. Now he's got to pick up his dribble and make a pass. I thought Vernon in the game, there was no double team. Then he put the ball on the floor and came, and he still continually tried to go. He's got two or three guys slapping at the ball."

DONOVAN FEELS FRIENDS' PAIN: After worrying through Selection Sunday the past three years, Donovan knows what a lot of his coaching peers were dealing with on Sunday.

Donovan joked about sending a text message to Georgia coach Mark Fox Sunday night saying that he now knew what Donovan and the Gators had gone through in recent years.

"I think Mark Fox has done a great job, and they are definitely deserving to be in the tournament," Donovan said.

With Alabama, Donovan didn't understand why they weren't in the tournament.

"I feel bad for Anthony, and I feel bad for our league because I really thought we had an opportunity," Donovan said. "And this is not taking anything away from George because I thought George had a terrific year. I just thought not that they should have gotten in over Georgia. I think Georgia should be in. I thought Alabama should have gotten in."

It wasn't all about the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas also announced the firing of head coach John Pelphrey, a former assistant at Florida under Donovan.

"I think in John's case, I know it was four years, but it really was three years," Donovan said. "That's to me somewhat remarkable that they wouldn't give him what he's got coming in, what he's got coming back to see, okay, maybe we're on the process of turning the corner a little bit."

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